RMI: Covid-free status returns

A large group of landowners turned out for a town hall style meeting at Majuro Atoll Local Government city hall November 6 to receive updates on the latest Covid-19 developments and quiz RMI and US Army officials. Photo: Wilmer Joel.

The Marshall Islands is expected to revert to Covid-free status following medical declaration that the US Army worker who initially tested positive two weeks ago is no longer contagious.

President David Kabua, speaking at the last day of Nitijela Tuesday, first announced the news that the American had no symptoms and had been cleared by his primary doctor at Kwajalein, two weeks into his three-week quarantine at Kwajalein.

“We will have our yellow flags back up this week,” a relieved Chief Secretary Kino Kabua told the Journal Tuesday.

The Office of the Chief Secretary in a statement said Wednesday: “In accordance with WHO and CDC recommendations, he ceased to pose an infectious threat on 8 November 2020 (his twelfth day of supervised and secured quarantine) and has been assessed as recovered and no longer an active case of Covid-19 by his primary physician today, 10 November.”

The Chief Secretary added that while this USAG-KA worker “has been deemed to be recovered at this stage, along with the other 15 passengers from his group, he will remain in secure quarantine for a total of 21 days, as required.”

The two close contacts of the Covid positive individual, along with the 13 other people in the repatriated group that arrived October 27, all tested negative for Covid earlier this week, according to the Chief Secretary.
In other developments on the Covid front:

• At an over five-hour town hall meeting last Friday, dozens of landowners from Majuro Atoll turned out to discuss the Covid situation at Kwajalein with Col. Jeremy Bartel, Chief Secretary Kino Kabua, Health Secretary Jack Niedenthal and other Health and Office of the Chief Secretary officials.

One key point confirmed by Bartel via Zoom was that the Army will now be following the same two-week quarantine and Covid testing system in Hawaii as employed by the RMI government.

Another important point brought out in questions put to the colonel by Rairok Councilwoman Margaret Alee is that if in the future a Marshallese being repatriated through the RMI system at Kwajalein gets sick from Covid while in quarantine at the Army base, the RMI will be required to organize an off-island medical evacuation for that person.

This point was then brought up at Tuesday’s Nitijela session’s question and answer period by Majuro Nitijela Member Tony Muller, who was at last Friday’s town hall session at MALGov city hall. He note that there may be only a small chance of this happening during Marshallese repatriation at Kwajalein given the two-week quarantine in Hawaii. But, he asked, does the Marshall Islands government have a plan to deal with a medical evacuation in the event his should happen?

Health officials said a minimum charge for an air ambulance starts at about $100,000. The RMI maintains a $100,000 limit on off-island medical referrals. Most off-island hospitals temporarily suspended handling medical referrals from the RMI during the Covid pandemic, although St. Luke’s in the Philippines recently reopened for cancer patients.

• The first group of 27 Marshallese to be repatriated is now in its second week of quarantine at Kwajalein. They are scheduled to have their second Covid test November 14.

• Chief Secretary Kabua said the second group of Marshallese to be repatriated is being delayed. This is “to address some additional steps and protocols that the Repatriation Working Group and the National Disaster Committee see the need to also have in place,” she said. This includes adding on a Covid “antibody” test as well as regular Covid test prior to the start of the 14-day quarantine period in Honolulu, Kabua said.

• The border closure due to Covid-19 was extended by another month last week. The previous travel advisory had extended the border closure to November 5. The evening before this expired, the Office of the Chief Secretary issued a revised travel advisory that extends the ban on people coming into RMI through December 5.

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